Seeking approval

11 city charter hopefuls move to next round of application process

PHOTO: Geoff Decker

A single-sex school, a school that offers the International Baccalaureate diploma, and a Staten Island high school for students at risk of dropping out are among 11 prospective New York City charter schools that the State Education Department invited this month to submit full applications to open in 2015.

Thirty-four schools across the state submitted letters of intent, and 17 were chosen to continue to this next round of the application process. The Board of Regents will make a final decision on the schools in November. Schools given the green light will get support finding space from New York City, in keeping with recent legislation.

None of the city schools angling for approval from the State Education Department are part of national charter networks. Many are locally-based, such as the proposed New Ventures Charter School, which would target overage students in Staten Island who are not on track to graduate. The application notes that while there are thousands of such students in the borough, Staten Island has only one transfer school to serve them.

Some charter applicants represent small-scale expansions. Steve Perry, the principal of Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., has applied to open a version of the school here. Perry, whose personal website calls him “America’s most trusted educator,” has assembled high-profile board members such as sports media personality Stephen A. Smith.

Other proposed school models include the single-sex school, the Sankofa School for Boys in Harlem, and the Sofara International Charter School, which would be one of the few charters in the city to offer an IB program.

In their letters of intent, schools outlined their missions, enrollment plans, and initial board members. In accordance with new state regulations that require charters to serve the same demographics as district schools, the letters also broadly described how the schools would recruit high-need students.

Hi-Tech Healthcare Charter School, for example, wrote that it would distribute recruitment materials in Spanish to target English language learners and would work with organizations that support students with disabilities.

The schools that the State Education Department is ushering toward operation are only some of the charter schools that hope to open in the city. SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute can also sign off on new schools, and this month, 17 of the 18 schools that submitted letters of intent filed full proposals.

While SUNY invited all 18 proposed charters to apply, one school opted out. This applicant was the Washington Heights Leadership Academy School, which aimed to “carry forward some of the legacy” of Mother Cabrini High School after it closed in June, according to Democracy Prep founder Seth Andrew, who grew up in the neighborhood and submitted the letter.

Andrew said he nixed plans to apply after losing Cabrini’s former facility, which was leased to Success Academy in a deal with the city after Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled one of the network’s schools from a public school site.

Fourteen Success Academies hoping to open over the next two years are among SUNY’s current batch of charter school proposals, along with three Achievement First schools.

These schools, and the 11 being considered by the State Education Department, would serve over 16,800 students at full capacity.

Last month, SUNY picked six charter schools to start up in 2015, and the Board of Regents approved one.

By the end of the five-year charter period, enrollment at these seven schools is expected to top 3,100.

This article has been clarified to reflect the status of SUNY’s charter school applicants.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.